Still no answers about CMU’s $10.6 m worth of computers, equipment

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS, Jamaica Observer,

EXPENDITURE of $10.6 million by the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) for computer equipment which the auditor general and her team have not been able to find at the campus was an issue of contention at yesterday’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which questioned the hiring of a logistics company to supply the devices.

The committee has indicated that it wants the CMU’s information technology department to appear and answer questions about the university’s deal with logistics outfit, Itz Shipd 24/7, which is not registered with the National Contracts Commission for the provision of computer services, and whose capability to do so was not determined.

According to the finding of the auditor general’s special report on the CMU, for the period 2016-17 to 2018-19, there was no proper recording of the inventory for the multimillion-dollar payout to the Corporate Area-based logistics company.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis told the PAC yesterday that her auditors had not been able to reconcile machines at the campus with the invoices presented. “We could not relate the machines that we saw assigned to those which we had an interest in, so we cannot attest for the devices. CMU has indicated that the machines are there, and they may very well be there, but we are not in a position to confirm because the requisite information that would allow us to do so is not available, and what is available is conflicting information,” she stated.

The purchase included 15 laptops and two tablets, among other computer equipment. According to the report, some of the expenditures included four MacBook Pro devices valued at over half a million dollars each.

Furthermore, the report concluded that despite having access to the enterprise version of a software suite, CMU purchased three individual licences from Itz Ship 24-7 Limited at a cost of $256,900 per annum. The audit team said its own checks revealed that the software provider sold the licences at an approximate cost of US$60 each (or total of $25,000), reflecting a difference of $231,900.

Committee member and MP for Manchester Central Peter Bunting questioned the arrangement. “It’s highly unusual for a company providing services for shipping, delivery and clearance also to be selling software licences but they sold the licences at 10 times the regular cost, so CMU paid $256,900 per annum to this company for a software suite which they already had the enterprise version of. It really is quite curious as normally these licences, you can buy them online directly from the vendor, but instead they go to a shipping and logistics services company which is not normally in the business of selling software licences,” he argued.

PAC Chairman Mark Golding called the deal a “big rip-off” which should be further investigated. “Why were they buying computers at these bizarrely high prices, and software licences from this company?”

Deputy president of the CMU, Professor Ibrahim Ajaguna said he did not have responsibility for the university’s information technology systems, and that the matter has to be investigated internally.

The government auditors said the CMU did not obtain the best value for the purchase, having gone through a logistics company instead of a software provider: “We were unable to determine the expertise and capability of the logistics contractor to deliver the computer,” the auditor general said in her report.

Added to that, there was no evidence of a warranty as there was no formal contract in place governing the purchase, and the CMU could not explain how the company was selected in the absence of a competitive tender process.

The report further outlined that not only did the purchase exceed the government procurement threshold of USS$300 per unit for this equipment, but the deal was approved by the then president of the CMU, without approval from the institution’s procurement committee.

Meanwhile, the auditor general says the logistics company had only presented a sales receipt that listed the items, without serial numbers or the original invoices from the manufacturer or approved supplier.

At the same time, the auditor general said her team was unable to identify four laptops, valued at $2.16 million, but that despite a lack of proper supporting documents, the purchases were certified and approved by CMU’s management, including attesting that the goods were received in good condition.

Photo: Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis

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